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A tough loss for the Birds

Eagles’ sack: Derek Barnett brings down Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota during Sunday’s loss. Source: Andy Lewis / contrastphotography.com

By Al Thompson

NASHVILLE — Anyone who watched the Tennessee Titans’ 26–23 overtime win over the Philadelphia Eagles at Nissan Stadium had to marvel how the fourth quarter and overtime unfolded, regardless of which team you were rooting for.

The Eagles held a 17–3 lead with five minutes left in the third quarter. The Titans responded by scoring 17 straight points of their own to take a 20–17 lead with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter.

After both teams failed to move the ball, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz led the Birds on a six-play drive that resulted in a 27-yard Jake Elliott field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime.

NFL overtimes are now just 10 minutes long. If the team with the opening drive kicks a field goal, the opposing team gets a shot. What happened in this overtime was truly remarkable.

The Eagles won the toss. Wentz drove his team all the way to the Tennessee 12-yard line. Two incomplete passes to Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz left the Eagles with little choice but to settle for a 30-yard Elliott field goal.

Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota had already played a terrific four quarters. His overtime performance would bring down the house and the visitors.

Mariota took the ball from his own 25-yard line and led his team on a 16-play, 75-yard drive that included converting three fourth-down plays. The first was a fourth-and-15 from the Tennessee 31-yard line. Mariota hit Lewan Taylor with a 19-yard completion…he was wide open.

The second came at the Eagles 44-yard line. Mariota’s pass to wide receiver Nick Williams was incomplete, but cornerback Sidney Jones was called for pass interference and the Titans had new life at the Eagles 40-yard line.

The next series seemed to fizzle after Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins tackled running back Dion Lewis for a four-yard loss, then defensive tackle Haloti Ngata sacked Mariota for a five-yard loss.

The Eagles defense broke down again when Mariota got loose for a 17-yard scramble but was two yards short. It was fourth and two from the Eagles 32-yard line with 1:17 left in the extra period.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel sent out his field goal unit, and at first seemed to want to walk away with a tie.

Vrabel then called his second consecutive timeout, apparently having a change of heart, and made the decision to not kick a potential game-tying, 49-yard field goal. Instead, the Titans picked up a first down on a 17-yard pass play to Lewis that set the Titans up for a first down at the Philadelphia 15. Three plays later, Mariota found wide receiver Corey Davis in the end zone for the winning touchdown.

In the Titans’ locker room after the game, many players were pinching themselves over what they had just pulled off.

“It’s a game you tell your kids about,” center Ben Jones said. “It’s something special. It’s my 100th straight game and it’s one I’ll never forget in my life.”

Titans cornerback and South Jersey native Logan Ryan paid homage to the man behind center.

“Credit to our offense, credit to №8, our quarterback, Mariota, ” Ryan said at his locker. “A lot of people questioned him. The one thing is, he’s tough, he’s a winner, he’s competitive. He out-dueled a great quarterback today, and we beat a pretty good team, the defending champions, at home. It took five quarters but we did it.”

Titans safety Kevin Byard agreed with his center. You may play in a game like this only once in your career.

“I thought I was watching a movie,” Byard said at his locker. “I was on the sidelines, I was like, ‘A bunch of fourth downs?’ But obviously, when it was fourth and two and we got it with Dion (Lewis), I knew we’re going to win the game, we’re going to throw a touchdown pass…it was like a movie, it was awesome.”

On Monday, Eagles coach Doug Pederson was asked about how his team could let any team convert so many fourth-down plays.

“We know that can’t happen,” Pederson said. “You can’t give up three fourth downs and the fourth-and-15. If we make that play, in that situation, the game is over and we’re sitting here 3–1. It’s all fixable. It’s all coachable. It’s not scheme. It’s not anything other than we just teach it better, offensively, defensively, and learn from it.”

Bird Seed: Tennessee has struggled with attendance in recent years. The Eagles, though, helped the Titans record the largest home crowd (69,013) at Nissan Stadium since they beat Seattle 33–27 on Sept. 24, 2017…Wentz completed 33-of-50 (66 percent) attempts for 348 yards, two TDs, no INTs and a 99.4 passer rating. Wentz’s 33 completions are the second-most he has recorded in a single game (36 completions on 12/4/16 at Cincinnati.). His 348 passing yards (ninth career game with 300-plus passing yards) tied for the second-most of his career (also 12/3/17 at Seattle), behind a 364-yard performance on 11/6/16 at the New York Giants…Alshon Jeffery’s 2018 debut was a good one. He produced his 14th career 100-plus-yard game (first as an Eagle) after logging eight receptions for 105 yards and one TD. The last time Jeffery had 100-plus yards and a TD in a single game was on 12/13/15 vs. Washington with Chicago (107 yards, one TD). His eight receptions were his most in a single game since 11/9/15 at San Diego with Chicago (10 receptions). Jeffery, who has combined for 13 receiving TDs in the regular season and postseason with Philadelphia, has caught a TD in each of his last three games played (four TDs overall), including the 2017 NFC championship and Super Bowl LII…Zach Ertz led the Eagles in receptions (10) and receiving yards (112). Ertz’s performance marked his franchise-record seventh career game with 10-plus receptions as well as his seventh career game with 100-plus receiving yards…Ertz, who entered the game leading all NFL TEs in receptions, surpassed Jeremy Maclin (343, 2009–14) for the ninth-most receptions in Eagles history (now 352). He is only four receptions shy of tying DeSean Jackson (356, 2008–13) for eighth on the team’s all-time list…Rookie cornerback Avonte Maddox notched his first career interception at the end of the second quarter and returned the ball 23 yards to the Tennessee 17-yard line. The takeaway set up a 27-yard FG by Elliott to give the Eagles a 10–3 advantage heading into halftime. ••

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